By Christina Maxwell
Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2012
A few months after I arrived in Michigan, I met some new friends at dinner in the dining hall: two hilarious and charming guys from England. Upon my saying all of six or seven words, they put down their utensils and asked with wonder, as if they may have just found a golden ticket, “Wait. Are you from the South?!” When I said that I was, they bubbled over with questions, hardly able to contain their excitement and spending the rest of dinner grilling me with sincere and outrageous questions about the South. I filled them in on the countless stories chronicling a life in the South, from Southern comfort food cooked by grandmas with a good dose of butter, advice and sass to “ride your tractor to school day” (yes, that was a real thing at my high school) to coon hunting (hunting raccoons).
“So people really spit around you and ride tractors? It sounds like an absolute paradise!”, they remarked with electric fascination and a gleeful gush of laughter at the thought of it all.
No matter where I go, someone nearly always manages to remark, “You’re from the South, aren’t you?” with a knowing smile within seconds of meeting me. At first, I was puzzled by this! How could a complete stranger realize immediately that I’m a transplant from the South, y’all? Okay, maybe it could be that I had already broken out my tri-climate parka while it was still “balmy” by Northern standards… But, now that I am well into my second semester at The University of Michigan, I have picked up on some of the big differences between here and my Southern homeland of sweet tea, cow pastures and rocking chairs that I love so much. Here are a few of the things, though majorly generalized, that are dead giveaways of a Southerner and will help you spot one anywhere.
Outside of the South, anything from Coke to Root Beer to Sprite is called “pop”. This was a totally new term for me. In the South, we call “pop” by several names: “soda”, “soft drinks” or just plain “coke”. Also, we happen to have the very best soft drink in the world, Cheerwine, which people elsewhere have never had the privilege of drinking. They’re also missing out on Chick-fil-a and Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
In the South, learning to always say “yes ma’am” and “no sir” and “excuse me” are as essential as learning how to dress yourself.
This is a big one. The first time I wore a monogrammed sweatshirt in Michigan, someone came up to me and stopped with a look of confusion and then laughed and said, “Oh, haha for a second there I thought you had your initials on your sweatshirt! Ha!”… A monogram is a design with your initials that can be put on absolutely anything to make it quintessentially Southern. Your first name initial comes first, your last name initial is in the middle in a larger font and your middle name initial comes last. Anything and everything can be monogrammed- towels, laundry bags, walls, car decals, rings, phone cases, sweatshirts, anything. I even have monogrammed stickers that go on my toes over nail polish.
There is a definite difference in Southern manners. Southern manners stem out of Southern hospitality, one of our trademarks. We usually apologize and say “excuse me” if we bump into someone, even if it was completely the other person’s fault. Another example of these manners is that if you’re eating with a group of people, you never touch your food until every single person has received their food.
First of all, I am not saying that men who aren’t from the South can’t be charming and treat a lady correctly. Yet, meet a good old Southern boy in a bow tie who holds the door for any young or old lady attempting to walk through it, knows his manners, pulls out a lady’s chair for her to sit in and sticks to the principle “ladies first” and you’ll know what I mean.
The use of “y’all” is probably one of the most prevalent giveaways of a Southerner. This is a contraction of the words “you” and “all” and is used to refer to any group of two or more people. Another famous phrase is “bless your heart”. This can be used in many circumstances, but is often used as a part of the manners issue we discussed earlier. It can be inserted in place of any unpleasant thought you may have about someone, replacing words your momma would tell you are better kept to yourself with a sweet-sounding Southern phrase.
In the South, the key ingredient in just about any Southern dish is butter. Paula Dean has not led you wrong. All you’ve heard about sweet tea, green beans, creamed corn, mashed potatoes, fried chicken and anything else you can fry, put fat-back (fat from pork) in or slather in butter, is true.
Even with all of the things I love about the South, I have come to love Michigan as well as a second home. It has given me incredible new friends from across the country, beautiful snow that is falling outside of my window right now, fall football games in the Big House and my dream school. Meeting people with different roots is one of the great adventures of going away from home and has brought a new spice to my life.
Christina Maxwell is a college freshman at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan majoring in Musical Theatre. Originally from Asheville , North Carolina, Christina was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of North Carolina for 2012 and the Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2012. Learn more about Christina here!